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1. Report from, the Select Committee on Adulteration of Food, Drinks, and Drugs. Ordered by the House of Commons to be Printed, July 22nd, 1856.
2. Paddington Sanitary Report for the year 1856. By J. B. San
Derson, M.D., Medical Officer of Health. 1857.
3. Adulterations Detected; or Plain Instructions for the Discovery of
Frauds in Food and Medicine. By A. H. Hassall, M.D., <fec.— London, 1857.
4. Dictionnaire des Alterations et Falsifications des Substances Ali
mentaires, Medicamenleuses et Commerciales, avec VIndication des Moyens de les Recynnaitre. Par M. A. Chevallier, PharmacienChimiste, Membre de la Legion d'Honneur, Ac. Deuxieme Edition.—Paris, 1854.
Dictionary of Adulterations of Alimentary, Medicinal, and Commercial Substances, with Directions for their Discovery. By M. A. Chevallier.
"whoever adopts Mr. Froude's recommendation to study English history in the Statutes at Large,* will find, first, that Johu Bull has from time immemorial been in the habit of quarrelling with his bread and butter; and secondly, tlwt his complaints have always attracted the attention of the Legislature. An Act passed in the fifty-first year of Henry III., professes in its preamble merely to confirm previous laws, when it condemns fraudulent bakers to the pillory, adulterating vintners and brewers to the cart's tail, and to a like penalty forestallers and butchers selling meat unfit for food, or which has been killed by Jews. That the Parliament had a precedent for the punishment is confirmed by Domesday Book, by which it appears that from the time of Edward the Confessor auy one convicted of making unwholesome beer was at Chester enthroned on a tumbril of dnng, or heavily fined.t Statutes of this nature accumulate as Parliaments are more frequent; and it gives us a right notion of tho business-like habits of our ancestors, to see that no political strife, no national revolution, turned their attention aside from the importanco of social and material comfort to the kingdom. The turbulent peers and burgesses who in Richard II.'s reign were passing contradictory acts of attainder against each other, and were foolish enough to vote that any one should be held a traitor who proposed their repeal, could yet find time to make sensible laws concerning the cleansing of malt, to superintend the exportation of worsted, the breeding of salmon, to alter former acts oppressive to the weaver, &c. The single Parliament of Richard ITL's anxious reign seems to have been more interested with the prevention of "devil's dust" in cloth, or short measures in oil and wine, and the protection of our infant manufactures, than with the succession to the throne. An invasion, Bosworth Field, and the introduction of a new dynasty of kings, intervene during the recess; yet, -when the members meet again after a few months, many with bloody hands, many in deep mourning, we find them passing a sensible navigation act, gauging wines, defining the duties of tanners, and persecuting poachers. From this time the statute-book is choked with the multitude of long-repealed acts to restrain imposture in the prepared food and manufactures, which were daily growing in importance. They are duly recorded by Burn and Hawkins, and remain to attest the fact, that attention to the physical comforts of the people has always been viewed by the British Legislature as a duty admitting of no evasion.
* On the Best Method of Teaching English History: Oxford Essays. 1S55. t " Malum I'crcrisiam faciens aut in cathedra poucbatur stcrcorls, aut It solidos debat prsepositU."—Quoted in Selden, Titles of Honour, ii. 6, 8:
To match fossil evidences of the care of our forefathers for these things, there are still in force several most stringent acts, designed by onr own generation to secure the purity of food and drink. We have laws punishing severely the adulteration of bread, flour, milk, meat, tea, coffee, tobacco, sugar, wine, beer, spirits, and other excisable articles. The Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, which heads this paper, cites especially the "Alehouse Act" (the 9th of George IV.), as applying to beer, porter, cider, and perry; and the "Bread Acts" (the 3rd and 4th of George IV., and the 6th aud 7th of William IV.), for farinaceous foods. These give power of search on a magistrate's warrant upon information for that purpose, and allow of summary conviction, with considerable penalties, cumulating on repeated offences. As respects general adulterations of other articles, any public body—such as a vestry, or a hospital, or a gaol, or a barrack—has its remedy in indictment under the Statute of Frauds; and individuals may and do proceed by action against the adulterating dealer for obtaining money under false pretences.*
Of late an opinion has begun to prevail that the Imperial Government does not do all that it ought to guard its countrymen from imposition; and that it is its duty to exert more force to stop an evil which presents to the public a very alarming aspect. Before they act, Parliament has been at some trouble to inquire by committee into the circumstances, and the Report here quoted is the result. But at the very threshold of the question, the Committee have to confess themselves puzzled by the very conflicting evidence as to the extent of the evil: some highly respectable and experienced witnesses pronounce that the amount of adulteration is really insignificant; others, equally respectable, that it is universal: some say that a great part of our daily food is rendered poisonous by the alum which all bakers put in it; others say that the alum does not remain there as alum, but is decomposed, and if it did remain, would be innocuous; some that no large brewer adulterates, and another that the beer he got from a public-house produced very curious effects; and so on.
• Mr. Goodman says he has successfully carried through the Central Criminal Court an action of this sort for sanding sugar. Report, &c., Answer 3931.
Whence this discrepancy? We think it may be explained as follows. The articles last named in the list of the dietary protected by the law come under the cognizance of the collectors of Customs or Excise, and the exceptional power of visit possessed by these authorities enables them easily to obtain evidence sufficient for the conviction of fraudulent adulterators; and, in fact, it appears that the large manufacturers are prevented as a rule from tampering with any goods of which the component parts contribute to the revenue. But further the ganger's hands do not stretch. It is not his duty or interest to interfere often with the retailer. So long as Sir John Grains and Co. have made so much pure gin and paid tax thereon, it matters little to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that over Jack Smith's counter it is sold mixed with-water and cardamoms. The consumer swallows in the end more of the diluted luxury, and in this particular case lives all the longer to pay his taxes; while, on the other hand, the cost of the prosecution of petty offenders would be very great. Hence, a witness acquainted principally with a wholesale trade may easily be sceptical about the existence of any adulteration; while another, who has purchased from retailers of all grades, may, among the enormous number of small struggling shopkeepers, find an alarming list of knaves.
Balancing, however, one evidence against the other, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that a large number of the articles in daily use for food, drink, and clothing, are sold to the consumer in a state fer removed from purity. And this, too, is generally the result of design, and is not declared by the name under which the article is sold But a question may fairly arise whether it is right to call this deed always by the bard name of Adulteration—a word derived from the most degrading and anti-social sin denounced in the Decalogue; and which always rouses the public to indignation, and the perpetrator to denial. Is it not in many cases a bona fide dilution I—in many cases an improved mode of manufacture?—in many careless or Stingy methods of preparation?—in many more a harmless catering to the whims of customers? Yet all these get classed together in the minds of the public along with the introduction of substances decidedly injurious or nauseous. Many a publican would hesitate to put strychnine or cocculus indicus in his beer, who yet daily waters his tap. And if a man sells milk cheap, he may illogically argue he has a right to dilute it. Such various opinions are expressed about the use of alum in bread, that we are bold enough to confess we think it an improvement to at least half the flour used in England. Those who bake at home are constantly condemned to eat a bad batch of bread because its use is forbidden in their kitchen, and without the employment of it a great deal of the wheat now turned into human food would have to be given to animals. By the use of alum a light friable bread can be made from inferior flour, which without it forms a tongh, indigestible substance, like the French country bread so dreaded by the dyspeptic. Careless or stingy modes of preparation scarcely amount to a sin in a competitive country like England; they lower the price of the article, though they supply it nasty, and the customer soon learns to suspect it is not worth more than is asked for it; if in the habit of buying cheap those eatables where carelessness really introduces a poison, as in the case of pickles, he rapidly acquires a simple test of its presence. As to the whims and prejudices of the public, woe to the legislation which does not respect them. "Surely we may have our cheese coloured with annatto, our sugar plums with the contents of our colour-box, our simncls with saffron, if it pleases our eye." Before any new principle of legislation for the evil can be generally applied, it must be carefully defined whore adulteration begins and ends; the four cases above instanced must be eliminated from it; and it must be clearly laid down whether the individual impurities (such as those cited above—water, alum, dirt, and paint.) are to be classed under them, or are to be made a heavier fault.
There must exist some means of preventing that which is intended as a check upon decided fraud, being made an oppression on individuals or a chain upon trade. How is this now done in the laws already existing on the subject? By simply adhering to the principle expressed in the legal maxim, "caveat emptor." For example, by the statute of Richard II., the mayor or bailiffs are to proceed against the dealers in sophisticated malt on the information of the consumers; and such is the intention of most subsequent legislation on similar points. The good sense of our countrymen is left to determine whether each individual case amounts to a fraud or not, and the plan is on the whole successful. The ninety-nine bakers out of a hundred who use alum, or put a small quantity of potatoes or rice in their loaves without marking them with an M, know they are liable to punishment; but they also feel confident that no customer would be foolish enough to bring the case forward unless the quantity was so great as to be a real injury to his stomach or pocket.
The Committee, then, seem to act discreetly when they recommend an adherence to what has been found suited to the English character, and quote the Bread Act as comprising "much that may be useful in framing a measure applicable to adulterations generally." By this Act, information must be laid before a magistrate, who grants a searchwarrant at his discretion, imposes certain penalties for the proved offence, and, if ho pleases, makes it public by advertisement. . An appeal lies to Quarter Sessions, and no person can bo convicted unless complaint is made within a reasonable period. It is probably impossible to go farther than this without the generalization of measures repugnant to English feeling, and only tolerated in the exceptional cases of the excise and customs from the obvious necessity for raising money by some means.
But several of the Committee's witnesses, whose opinions we are bound to respect, advocate the introduction of a repressive force much stronger, much more imposing, and more likely to exhibit striking results—but at the same time completely novel to the English executive: at least,.as a general measure. "Caveat venditor" Dr. Hassall says in one of his answers, should be in future our commercial maxim; that the tradesman should not be allowed to sell, even if the customer were willing to buy, and that encouragement should be given by Government to articles now avoided on account of their expense— such as crystallized instead of coarse sugars. Dr. Taylor suggests that there should be established authorities, with a power to search all shops, to take samples for analysis, seize what they consider noxious, and impose fines. Dr. Carpenter proposes "detective inspectors" of food and drink. Mr. P. Mackenzie, editor of the 'Glasgow Reformer's Gazette,' would place a wider power of visit in the hands of the excise. Mr. Postgate would spread through the kingdom welleducated "custodiers of the public health," with fixed salaries of about 50(W. a year, who should employ detectives to purchase articles for them to submit to analysis. If these were found adulterated, then information should be laid before a magistrate by a public prosecutor, and that summary conviction should follow; that all tradesmen should be licensed, and a renewal of licences refused after repeated offences; that all persons accessory to "pernicious" adulteration should be amenable to the criminal law; and that the faulty nomenclature of an article should be an offence. He would have these custodiers in sufficient numbers to make any analysis which a customer should lay before them, not only of food, and drink, and drugs, but of linen, wool, silks, <fec., and would place them under a central bureau like the French Conseil de Salubrit6. Mr. Wakley suggests somewhat similar measures to be carried oxtt through the Board of Health, its local medical officers, and a corps of visiting purchasers appointed by them. He would not impose heavy fines, but would advertise in periodicals and placard on church doors and other public places the names of tradesmen who had been searched, so that all might know not only which was a bad shop, but which was a good one. He estimates the expense of such a machinery at about 10,000£. a year for London, not, indeed, expecting for that sum to inspect all the retail shops, but trusting to effect much by the terror inspired. Dr. Waller Lewis and Mr. Calvert also praise and recommend for imitation in this country the spy system pursued in France. Mr. Wallington advises that tradesmen should be forbidden by a Treasury order to deal in certain materials of adulteration; that they should be liable to have interrogatories filed against them, which they should be compelled to answer on oath, admitting or denying their guilty possession of these goods; that their denial should be followed by "inspection," their admission or proof of perjury by an "injunction," disregard of which should be a contempt of court, and involve imprisonment. It is needless to say that Mr. Wallington is a solicitor.
It is evident that there is here proposed a general employment of a machinery hitherto only exceptional, and the confessedly exceptional and unpopular nature of which has caused it to be less and less brought into play as legislation grows more perfect. A detective police has always been a hateful thing from the earliest ages, and never more so than when it has dealt with articles of diet. The Greek for an inspector of food (avKofuvriit) was used by the shrewd Athenians as a